What is Prana?
By Christine (Citrini) Ware, Ph.D., E-RYT
I was recently asked this question by a long-time student. Prana is defined in different ways: energy, life energy, breath. It can also be thought of as qi or chi (concepts from Traditional Chinese Medicine). In yoga philosophy, the two great aspects of existence are prana and cit (pronounced chit), energy and consciousness. Prana, as energy, exists everywhere and in everything. It is the energy of creation and the essence of matter and form in the universe. It flows through subtle energy channels called nadis. The breath is one of prana’s subtle material forms. The practices of yoga are designed to increase prana, by encouraging control of its flow and energy-enhancing (or “right”) actions. Prana Vidya is the knowledge of life energy; in other words, it is the knowledge and the application of this knowledge to control the flow of prana for greater health and awareness. Pranayama is defined as breathing practices that control and expand prana.
Prana needs to be experienced. It cannot be understood through explanation alone. This is the reason that yoga is an experiential practice in which self-experiment, self-inquiry, and self-realization are encouraged. The experience of energy, of breath flow, and of activity (prakrti) are ways to experience prana. We can experience prana and gain knowledge of it by tuning in to our experience of energy, breath, and activity, and more particularly, that which increases our energy, breath capacity and flow (svara), and ability to focus. The experience of prana can also be (and often is) quite subtle. For example, it may be possible to feel shifts in energy using hasta mudras (hand mudras) or subtle movements of the body in meditative states (prana kriyas). One may also be able to experience the subtle or energy body in relaxed and meditative states (as if experiencing an aura or energy field around one’s physical body). Kriyavati, the inspiration for the TriYoga Flows and Prana Vidya practices, is the manifestation of kundalini (universal life energy) via hatha yoga.
In class this week, I encouraged students to experiment with changing their breath pacing and the timing of their flows and movements, in order to experiment with and experience these shifts in prana. For example, it can be interesting to see how one’s focus, relaxation, breath, thoughts, and experience of energy change if one comes to Knees to Chest from Partial Recline (1) synchronizing breath and movements of legs and arms versus (2) when one breathes randomly and brings each arm and leg into the posture at a different time. The practices of TriYoga are designed to awaken, enhance, and control the flow of prana through encouraging positive lifestyle choices (including dietary choices), the TriYoga Flows, pranayama (breathing) practices, mudras, practices which focus the mind (pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses; dharana, concentration; and dhyana, meditation), the experience of expanded consciousness (Samadhi), and selfless service (Karma Yoga). Prana is experienced more easily when the body is relaxed, the breath is rhythmical, and the mind is calm; this also expands prana.
The mind and breath are interdependent. Pranayama practices are one of the most powerful ways to control and calm the mind. Thus, yogic teachings maintain that pranayama is one of the greatest yogic disciplines because it brings the breath – and therefore the mind – under control. The more one can increase prana through the breath practices and calm and focus the mind, the more one can balance and increase the flow of life energy.
For more information, please study Kali Ray’s Prana Vidya manual (2008). For this article, with the correct Sanskrit transliteration markings, please download the PDF version from our website. http://www.mindbodyservices.com